October is ADHD Awareness month: Understand your child’s behavior and take action

By: Maria Alejandra Pulgar


Para leer en Español

We all dream of a well-behaved child who is a delight to be around. However, sometimes from an early age, your child exhibits rambunctious behaviors; is loud, restless and impulsive, to a level way different than other children you see; those behaviors cause complaints from their teachers or caregivers and the isolation or bullying from other children, at the park or school. What can you do?

Some argue children nowadays get a diagnosis of ADHD and are in therapy or medicated because their parents are not doing their job right in handling disciplinary methods. What really happens is that parents are now more informed and taking action early, looking for help for their children, when they observe that something is odd and milestones are not achieved as expected in their physical, emotional, psychological and social development. With an accurate diagnosis comes an action plan, which will improve the quality of life for the child and his family.

October is ADHD awareness month, a global initiative to distribute reliable information to educate about this condition, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatments. The theme of this year is “Moving Forward with ADHD”, to encourage the pursuit of adequate approaches for successful diagnosis and management, to help individuals and their families.

Is ADHD a real thing?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH.gov) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a group of “neurodevelopmental disorders” that present “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that: interferes with functioning or development and has symptoms presenting in two or more settings”.

A study by the American Psychiatric Association determined that in the EEUU, around 6.1 million children between 2 and 17 years old had been diagnosed with ADHD, making it one of the “most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood”. Worldwide its prevalence is 5% in children and around 2.8% in adults. Boys are diagnosed more frequently than girls, because symptoms manifest differently depending on the gender and take longer to identify accurately.

ADHD is a real condition, not a “defect” or an “illness”. It was first documented and observed in 1902 in England. It comprises a whole set of symptoms that include: short attention span; physical, verbal, or emotional hyperactivity; fidgeting, restlessness and impulsivity; selective hyperfocusing; forgetfulness; procrastination and executive dysfunction.

Executive dysfunction is the lack or impairment of the skills for analyzing and processing information, planning and organization, managing emotions and time, or remembering details. It impacts the person’s ability to organize and achieve goals, which over time, if left unattended, may impact the person’s self-esteem and lead to other mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.

Studies suggest that ADHD might have a genetic origin, however, more research is on its way to determine possible environmental, nutritional, and social factors related to the condition.

How is ADHD diagnosed and treated?

A baby seems to be a “cute, curious, rambunctious toddler” or a “constant daydreamer”, and then grows up to be a distracted, noisy, or disobedient child; prone to tantrums, who loses belongings, does not understand rules, does not learn how to take turns nor carry on a conversation.

Parents often identify first the notoriously dysregulated child’s behavior, compared with peers of the same age. If they have more than one child, the differences are noticed earlier. As a parent, you always know when something is odd in your child’s development.

ADHD children suffer a lot before diagnosis and treatment; peers bully and isolate them and parents and teachers try all behavior intervention techniques in the toolkit with minimal improvements. Children feel frustrated because they know what they need to do but sometimes do not have the language, nor the self-control to do it. And then they act out again. Is a cycle that needs to be broken to improve.

Parents should discuss their observations with their pediatrician, who will in turn lead to the right specialist for evaluation: a psychologist, neurologist, speech or occupational therapist. There will be a battery of observation evaluations and, if needed, an EEG or other neurological tests. Once diagnosed, the course of treatment may include psychotherapy or psychosocial interventions, behavioral or occupational therapy; nutritional modifications, and medication if needed, depending on the case and the age of the person diagnosed. 

Sometimes ADHD comes along with other exceptionalities such as giftedness, autism spectrum, speech delays, auditory disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, anxiety, etc. Depending on what is more prevalent it will determine the path for accurate diagnosis and treatment. When the child does excel academically, ADHD symptoms are difficult to pinpoint; parental observation of their behavior is key for intervention.

Knowledge is power

More challenging than handling a child with behavior and executive function issues is finding out what is happening and how to help him. Once the child has been diagnosed, the next step must be to put together the most comprehensive support team that can train the lacking executive functions, manage the symptoms, and catch up with any developmental delays.

The first source of information for parents is their pediatrician who will guide the process. Accepting and understanding a diagnosis for your child is not a failure. With timely diagnosis and adequate interventions, the symptoms of ADHD can be controlled, improving the function of the individual to lead a happy, productive, and successful life.

For more educational resources on the subject consult ADD.org; CHADD.org and ADDitude Magazine.


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